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15 January 2016

Why publishing the Beckett Report matters more than you think

Few expect Learning the Lessons to trigger a rethink among the party's leadership or grassroots, but the report may prove crucial later down the line

By Stephen Bush

So Margaret Beckett’s report into the 2015 defeat, Learning the Lessons, will be published after all. While less explosive than 2015: What Happened? another internal inquest into Labour, both, according to Philip Cowley and Denis Kavanagh’s study of the 2015, reach similar conclusions: Labour lost because it was percieved to have a weak leader, was distrusted on the economy, welfare, and immigration. 

While the publication of the report represents the only real victory for Labour’s Corbyn-sceptics since Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide win – attempts to prevent Andrew Fisher remaining in post as Corbyn’s adviser, or to block the economist James Meadway from being appointed as an adviser to John McDonnell, have both failed, while lobbying from members capped the number of MPs voting for airstrikes against Syria at just 66 – few expect the contents to be particularly revolutionary. Every professional study of Labour’s defeat has concluded that Labour’s loss was due to Ed MIliband’s percieved inferiority to David Cameron, and a lack of credibility on the economy, immigration, and the economy. 

All of which might make you wonder why the party’s right has put so much energy into calling for the report to be published. Some believe that Labour must not only learn from the defeat but be seen to do so. But for others, but I’m told that the the crucial section is not on the problems with 2015, but on what went well: namely, the party’s ground campaign and the decisions taken by Labour party headquarters during the short campaign. Although the party will be criticised for targeting too many seats – Labour had an official target seat list of 106 seats to attack, while the Tories attacked in just 50 seats and defended in a further 50 – the reality is that Labour never targeted as many as 106 seats, with the more ambitious seats (including the likes of Dover & Deal) tacked on to at the request of Ed Miliband’s office to give a more “one nation” look to the target seats. 

Over the Christmas period, briefing appeared in the papers describing Labour staffers as “Blairite losers”, sparking fears that Labour’s central office would be next in a general purge.  Although Labour HQ is officially neutral in internal elections, it was an open secret that Yvette Cooper was the preferred candidate of most Labour staffers, partly because Cooper recruited heavily from the party’s field and press teams for her own leadership bid, and a report damning the efforts of headquarters would have proved a useful spur for those arguing for a clear-out of party staff. The publication of the Beckett report may prove a useful tool for averting that.

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